The French basic research landscape is dominated by a few nationwide institute, similar to the NIST or the NIH in the US. The largest of these is the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientific). Getting a tenured job in one of those institutes enables someone to focus on basic research rather than teaching or going in the industry. It has always been quite challenging to get such position as many people apply for very few positions, and the choice of the candidates is quite political. Each year there is a call for applications, through a impressive formal process that young researchers trying to get jobs in France end up knowing quite well.
Last year, I was visiting a research lab (INCM) and I saw in their coffee-break room the following poster (on the right), that I could clearly recognize as the official call for application for positions at CNRS.
Now this poster says ‘The CNRS recruits 3 researchers (m/w) in all fields of research‘. Of course it’s a fake poster and black humor: 3 positions nationwide in all fields of research is ridiculously low. It is however an expression of the nightmare of thousands of young researchers who are applying each year and keep hearing that the government will slash the number of state employees.
The call for the 2011 applications for research positions at INRIA, the French national computer science institute, that is another one of the big research institutions in France, is out. The page is entitled Cinq postes de chargé de recherche 2e classe sont à pourvoir (5 positions for junior researchers are available). This is not a joke, and it is striking to see the similarity between the dark humor of 2010 and the reality of 2011. To be fair INRIA is smaller than CNRS, as it covers only computer science and applications (listed as applied maths, numerical computing and simulation, algorithm and software research, networks and distributed systems, and computational modeling for life sciences). The number of applications is in hundred and not thousands, but having only 5 jobs available nationwide still feels really awkward.
A minor detail: I am trying to get a job in computational science research in France.